Thursday, July 10, 2014

Square Zeros #22: Chris Carr (Stonehenge Parnhashnakovsky, Brooklyn Wildlife)

Burlesque. Hip-hop. Performance art, dance troupes. Heavy metal, DJs. Fire spinners. Punk rock, indie rock. “Nudity is unity.” To catch a Brooklyn Wildlife production is to surrender to a single concept — freedom — and the platform reflects the artist behind it, Chris Carr. Chris started Brooklyn Wildlife with his longtime musical collaborator Keith Lay in 2011 as a way to promote artistic expression outside of conventional, often commercial channels.

His current hip-hop project — he performs under the name Stonehenge Parnhashnakovsky — operates under similar assumptions: “I have no interest in touring for 230 days of the year, performing the same seven songs that were given to me by a label saying, 'Heres your cowriter, here's the hook, here's the subject matter, here's what's trending.' I would never want to do that." As a result, Chris takes care not to label himself as a certain style of rapper.

That's not to say there aren't in-roads to describing a Stonehenge Parnhashnakovsky track or show — I'll give you some words right now: Aggressive. Cerebral, but not professorial. Personal. Confrontational and improvisational, to the extent that you never know where a verse or performance might take you. At a recent Brooklyn Wildlife collaboration at Bermuda Triangle, I watched Chris cross the room, scramble up the walls of the gallery into a crouched position straddling a refrigerator and a file cabinet, and hurl rhymes from above the crowd.

Chris gave us a listen to some of his earliest tracks, recorded as part of a group when he was finishing his undergraduate degree at Morehouse College in Atlanta around 2001. Having grown up in Washington, D.C., where, he explains, young rappers didn't really see anyone around them “making it” in the music industry, Chris didn't put a premium on writing pop songs. Fittingly, “Who Killed Jesus?” explored larger universal themes that he found himself addressing in his academic pursuits.

Similarly, “Insomniac's Dream” brought a wealth of learning — religion, psychology, sociology, literature — to bear on Chris's lyricism. Though he writes on more personal (less universal) topics as a result of where he finds himself now, “Insomniac's Dream” is so densely packed with metaphors, symbolism, and historical callbacks that an annotated version wouldn't be too far down the road, though more likely it'd be some liner notes telling you whatever, man — figure out yourself what it means to you.

Chris continues to perform around Brooklyn as Stonehenge Parnhashnakovsky with a growing number of collaborators, and to run Brooklyn Wildlife events with a growing team of contributors. The Brooklyn Wildlife Festival is going to be this summer's enormous undertaking, across three days at five venues. You can find information and keep updated on it here.

— JM

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